Multi-Party Charter for SA is a headache for the ANC — but still has to weather many storms
The formation of the Multi-Party Charter for SA has the potential to be the start of a massive new dynamic in our politics. While there is still a great deal of work to do, this group could lead to real change. Still, the full impact may only be felt in six years, rather than in next year’s general election. And decisions around whether to include parties like the Patriotic Alliance could fatally wound the formation before it gets off the ground.
It is a fascinating fact of our politics that, as former Democratic Party leader Tony Leon pointed out last week, the share of the vote won by the opposition to the ANC in national elections has changed very little in nearly 30 years, despite everything else that has changed over that period.
That said, there can be no doubt the ANC is today more vulnerable, particularly after the 2021 local elections.
Possibly, one of the major reasons the share of the vote won by opposition parties has not increased dramatically is that so many people have given up on voting. If any party can excite those who did not vote in 2019 to the polls, that could change the balance of power dramatically.
Many of these stayaway voters complain they have no one to vote for, while for others there is no point in voting because the party they support will not achieve any meaningful success.
The possibility of a coalition government changes all of this, for instead of voting for a single party to run the government, now it is about making sure your party is represented in government. The very fact that this pre-coalition pact exists could well give the parties in it a sense of momentum. If the parties can use this as a launch pad to show they are making progress, it could well encourage more of their supporters to vote — and more parties may feel emboldened to join the group…
Key to whether it makes any progress is how the parties relate to each other and whether they are not only able to work together but also to convince voters that they can do so.
This is why some of the principles agreed upon last week are so important.
In particular, it appears there has been agreement that it will not be automatic for the leader of the party which wins the most votes to become the President or to lead the government.
This was clearly worked out long in advance.
Clearly, the comment by the Freedom Front Plus leader, Pieter Groenewald, several weeks ago that South Africa is “not ready for a white President” was preparing the ground for this. And the fact that he said it may well have made it easier for the DA to accept the inevitable — that its leader would not be able to head a national coalition government.
Of course, once the DA conceded this, the other parties were happy to also do so, probably for matters of pure self-interest.
A big question
But it is likely that the question of who can join this grouping and who cannot is going to be very difficult in the future and could even risk breaking the entire initiative apart.
For the moment, the parties have agreed that anyone can join, except for the ANC and the EFF.
For some, this explains the reason for the group’s existence: to prevent a coalition of the ANC and the EFF from forming a government — a coalition, they claim, that would spell the end of South Africa’s democracy.
But the EFF is not the only splinter party from the ANC. There are many parties and individuals who would happily help the ANC break apart the Multi-Party Charter. This would be much easier to do from the inside, and so could make choosing who to include and who to exclude difficult.
Already, it appears that ActionSA believes the Patriotic Alliance (PA) cannot be ignored, while PA leader Gayton McKenzie has claimed he would ditch all of his agreements with the ANC to join the Multi-Party Charter.
The DA disagrees, pointing out that it has been betrayed by the PA.
The PA cannot be trusted — it is always looking for the best deal. It is also guilty of all of the worst behaviour that voters complain about in coalitions: changing sides at the last minute, pulling out of working coalitions and demanding important positions.
Its commitment to clean governance cannot be trusted either. In Ditsobotla its mayor had been convicted of fraud while in the position for the ANC (it defended this by saying it believed in giving people “second chances”).
Also, two convicts-turned-businesspeople and now the PA’s two senior leaders, McKenzie and Kenny Kunene, both had business interests with former president Jacob Zuma. In 2017, they flew to Russia with Zuma’s favourite ally, David Mahlobo, as part of a R5-billion oil deal.
This indicates they have other interests that tie them very closely to the ANC or some of its leaders.
For other parties to reward this behaviour will only encourage the PA and others to follow suit.
Stuck in the middle
There is another strange political aspect to the Multi-Party Charter — the parties that are represented have very different constituencies.
This is a positive thing — to succeed it needs to win support from diverse constituencies and to work towards social cohesion.
However, these parties are all either to the left or the right of the ANC. And the ANC was formed in 1912 specifically to bring different people together. It is still the only movement in South Africa’s history, from that time through to the Congress of the People in 1955 and all that followed, that has been able to represent people from all our communities.
While the Multi-Party Charter represents people from different ideological viewpoints, the ANC is still the party in the middle.
This reveals how far the ANC has strayed from its publicly stated mission and how it has lost the trust of voters.
Such is the state of our politics at present that medium-term predictions are all but impossible. But this formation could inject new energy into opposition parties and make life for the ANC all the more unpleasant. DM